Free Comic Book Day: What to look out for

Today is Free Comic Book Day, and here's a rundown of some of the comics that caught my interest. If you want to check 'em out before you go, CBR has previews of many of the FCBD titles. (My FCBD comics came from my favorite Boston comics shop, Comicopia.)

Hands down, the one comic everybody wants is Archaia's hardback anthology, which includes brand-new stories from six of their titles: Mouse Guard, Labyrinth, Return of the Dapper Men, Rust, Cursed Pirate Girl, and Cow Boy. The stories stand on their own but also tie in to the books in clever ways; the Mouse Guard story is a puppet show, and the Rust story features a boy writing a letter to his father (as his older brother does in the book). This book is a keeper; it even has a nameplate inside the front cover. Here's a list of where Archaia creators will be doing book signings this FCBD.

BOOM! Studios has a nice flipbook with several Adventure Time comics on one side and Peanuts on the other. The Peanuts comics are mildly funny, but the Adventure Time side is edgier and features extra stories by Lucy Knisley and Michael DeForge. The stories are colorful and lively, and DeForge's contribution, about a bacon ecosystem that supports tiny breakfast organisms, is downright surreal.

Carl Barks's stories in the Fantagraphics Donald Duck Family comic also have a surrealistic feeling to them, especially the one in which Donald is tortured by bad dreams and winds up jumping into a shark-filled pool to keep the ladies from seeing the doily he crocheted. See what I mean? Even the description is surreal. This comic also features a story in which Donald convinces Uncle Scrooge that his money is worthless and fish is the new currency, a prank that backfires with hilarious consequences.

BOOM!'s other book is The Censored Howard Cruse, in which all the naughty bits are blacked out. The comic comes with a hearty plug for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, without which all comics would have big black bars all over the place. Or maybe they wouldn't exist at all, because even with all the redactions, this is pretty obviously an adult book.

The sleeper comic of the day may be Graphic Elvis, a compilation of Elvis pin-ups by different creators (Gilbert Hernandez, Paul Pope), a cute Baby Elvis comic by Chris Eliopoulos, and a truly awesome fan-comic, written by Stan Lee, about what happened to Elvis when he reached the Pearly Gates. (If you're wondering what it could be, you're thinking too hard.) The Graphic Elvis book is priced at a hefty $195, but this sampler should be plenty for most of us.

Atomic Robo goes to CERN and blasts a robo-dinosaur with the Large Hadron Collider in a self-contained story in the Red 5 flipbook. Here's the best endorsement I can give it: My husband, who is an actual physicist who does research at the LHC, found it hilarious and wants to send it to his colleagues. It's a fun little story that should appeal to newcomers and diehard Atomic Robo fans alike.

Marvel made a good choice with their Spider-Man comic, which is the first chapter of their Spider-Man: Season One graphic novel. It's new-reader friendly, because it starts out on day one of the story, with Peter Parker spending a pleasant morning with Uncle Ben and Aunt May, getting picked on at school, and then getting bitten by a radioactive spider and developing strange new powers. Cullen Bunn (The Sixth Gun) is the writer, and he puts in a few nice touches; Peter is accused of sexting, and the exhibit at which he is bitten is titled "Radiation: Nature's Nightlight." I'm not fond of Neil Edwards' artwork—it seems overly detailed to me—but it's the superhero standard and it does the job. My one problem with this book is the excessive number of ad pages, all of them house ads, which interrupt the story and add a layer of busyness to an already overly busy comic.

The comics are short in the Th3rd World Studios flipbook, but the art is remarkable; Finding Gossamyr is illustrated by Sarah Ellerton in a lively, painted style that is quite different from her webcomic, The Phoenix Requiem. On the other side is a four-page sampler (plus character sketches) of The Stuff of Legend, which is sort of the noir version of Toy Story—a child is abducted by the boogeyman and his toys go over to the dark side to rescue him. I'm not real up on the story, but the art is amazing.

Sometimes you pick up a comic and notice the art right away. That's the case with Dark Horse's Serenity comic, which is a flipbook backed with Star Wars. I picked it up to see if I could get into the story without being familiar with the franchise, but I was immediately distracted by the elegance of the art. A quick check of the title page reveals why: The artist is Fabio Moon. The comic is awesome. I can't say it advanced my knowledge of the Whedonverse very much, but it reads well as a self-contained story, even without a lot of exposition, and Moon's art is totally worth the cost of admission.

The Worlds of Aspen comic was a little disappointing. I always see their comics listed in the solicitations but had never actually read one, so I was curious. They had two short slices of story, and the rest of the comic was single-page promos for different series. After flipping through it I didn't know much more about their comics than I did from reading the solicitations.

I was kind of skeptical about the Image sampler, with its four-page slices of six different stories, but two of them—Revival and It-Girl and the Atomics—made a convert of me. In both cases, the creators passed my eight-page test in half the space, setting up the premise and the characters and getting me interested enough to care about them in just four pages. In Revival, it's the premise that got me: People are rising from the dead. OK, nothing new here, but the way it was presented was interesting. With It-Girl, it was the characters and the writing that grabbed me. Honorable mention goes to Crime and Terror, which had a very slight story but interesting artwork; I'll be checking that one out as well. The other three stories were well done too, but those are the three that grabbed me.

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